It was perfectly possible to convince yourself after the opening game against England that South Africa were close to competing, that but for a few errors here and there, they might have chased down 312. It was also possible to build a viable argument that the result against Bangladesh might have gone either way on a different day.
There were no straws to cling onto after India’s facile six-wicket victory at the Ageas Bowl on Wednesday. Nothing. At no stage during the game was it possible to genuinely believe victory was a reality, never mind likely. That is far more depressing than having a glimmer of hope to clutch at.
Faf du Plessis made no excuses but did point out that having a fit Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi might have made a difference. It was an admission that the squad lacks the depth of other nations, that South Africa’s chances of success always hinged on a few elite players being at their very best throughout the tournament.
To reach the semi finals it seems likely that they will have to win all of their remaining six group games, and then two more to win the World Cup. As hopes go, it’s as forlorn as they come. Beating Australia, West Indies, New Zealand and Pakistan – as well as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan – would represent the most impressive victory streak in Proteas ODI history. If they did that, they would probably win the tournament. One for the optimists to cling to.
It’s a painful thing to admit that you simply weren’t good enough. Not just to win, but to give the opposition a decent fight. Or any fight. Just landing a couple of punches would have been good, although scant consolation.
All of the selection gambles were understandable, and even justifiable. But there were simply too many of them. Hashim Amla has been desperately past his best for 18 months, Dale Steyn was only “60 percent fit” when the squad was selected according to the captain and Lungi Ngidi was no fitter, according to nobody but the evidence of the naked eye. Was Chris Morris really made to feel part of the team having initially been omitted following a two-month cold shoulder?
Any rot amongst the workers starts at the top, supposedly. The SA Cricketers Association began High Court proceedings against CSA last week for not engaging them, as they are contractually bound to, regarding the restructuring of the domestic game. Reverting to a 12-team Provincial format will cost around 70 professional players their jobs.
This ‘admin stuff’ is not something which takes place behind the scenes and beyond the eyes and ears of the national squad. They are all intrinsic to the negotiations. While the World Cup squad have only themselves to blame for their performances on the field, they have taken place on a background of mistrust and disdain for their employers. Not an excuse – just a fact.
While there is still hope, it should be gripped. Nobody cast adrift in wild seas discards the hope of rescue while there is breath in their lungs. But if and when that breath runs out, we still have a fascinating tournament to look forward to. England and India seem certain semi finalists. Australia are once again strong. New Zealand, despite scraping to victory against Bangladesh last night, look formidable – as do the West Indies. And nobody sane rules Pakistan out.
Perhaps, after 20 years of torment and missed opportunities for far better South African teams than this one, it may be a grim blessing to see a modest squad bow out early without the heartache and pain of earlier years. Then again, perhaps not.
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